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New Jersey Turnpike Auth. v. PPG Indus., Inc.

ELR Citation: 30 ELR 20193
Nos. No. 98-6309, 197 F.3d 96/(3d Cir., 11/22/1999)

The court dismisses a turnpike authority's contribution claims against three chromium ore processors under the Comprehensive Environmental Recovery, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the New Jersey Spill Act for the contamination of several sites along the New Jersey Turnpike. The turnpike authority failed to provide sufficient evidence to survive the processors' motion for summary judgment. The court first holds that although the turnpike authority need not prove causation in the traditional sense of the word, it must show some connection between the actions of the processors and the contamination at the site. Additionally, the court rejects the authority's argument that the entire eastern spur of the turnpike is the "facility." The area envisioned by the turnpike authority as the "facility" in question is so broad that it would result in an unwarranted relaxation of the causation requirement. The court also holds that the Spill Act requires the authority to demonstrate some connection or nexus between the contamination and the processors.

Next, the court holds that the turnpike authority did not provide enough evidence to prove the nexus required for it to recover from the processors under CERCLA or the Spill Act. The evidence offered by the turnpike authority is deficient in several respects: it is vague and imprecise, of questionable reliability, and, therefore, not sufficiently probative to create an issue for trial. The court further holds that the turnpike authority failed to provide evidence sufficient to show that the processors acted in a tortious manner within the meaning of CERCLA or the Spill Act such that an alternative liability theory would be appropriate. Moreover, given that the turnpike authority is a potentially responsible party and a joint tortfeasor, it may be inappropriate to allow the alternative liability theory, which is meant to apply to wholly innocent plaintiffs, to be used to shift the burden of proof to fellow tortfeasors in a contribution action.

Counsel for Appellant
Ross A. Lewin
Jamieson, Moore, Peskin & Spicer
300 Alexander Park, CN 5276, Princeton NJ 08543
(609) 452-0808

Counsel for Appellee
George E. McGrann
Sweeney, Metz, Fox, McGrann & Schermer
11 Stanwix St., 18th Fl., Pittsburgh PA 15222
(412) 918-1100

Before Becker and Roth, JJ.